Wednesday (12-January-2011) — Chile

Gone to See Patagonia 2010/2011. Photography Workshop with Thom Hogan. Day 17: Travel from Torres del Paines National Park to Punta Arenas.

We had been hearing about a general strike in southern Chile. Today we found out it was real. Our bus took a back route out of the National Park to avoid a road block, since shutting down the park was one of the strikers objectives. This doesn’t make sense since tourism is a major source of income for the region. We ran into our first road block near a small airport. Several cars blocked the road, and the people ran around in the rain with their black flags (plastic garbage bags). After 15-20 minutes, the cars withdrew and raced down the road to presumable the next road block. The next road block at the intersection of the highway to Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas was more significant. Trucks were used to block the road and a big pile of wood was being set up for a bon fire. The Guardia watched but didn’t do anything. A strike leader who appeared drunk came up to the bus and told us we couldn’t go through to either Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales. He did have a solution for us – we could carry all of our gear and luggage through the strike line and catch a ride to the next town. As we walked through, the cars honked, people jeered, and wave their black flags. Once we were through the line, we realized that all of the local taxis were part of the strike, and no local busses would come to pick us up. It was going to be a several mile walk into Puerto Natales in the rain. I was having a really hard time with a residual cough and being run down from a respiratory infection earlier in the trip. Finally, a farmer with a pick-up stopped and took a couple of us and most of our luggage. I would not have made it without his help. During the walk into town, 125 vehicles passed us – many honking. This farmer was the only one that stopped to help. It was clear that there was no way we would be getting to the airport in Punta Arenas for our flights on Wednesday. I called AMEX and had tentative flight reservations made for the following two days. At this point it is not clear how much longer I will be stuck in Chile. This is a lousy way to end this photo workshop, and has really soured any interest in visiting Chile again. Rob is doing the best he can to find out when we can get to the airport. In the mean time, I should be able to catch up on some of my images.

Roadblock outside of Pureto Natales Chile. Image taken with a Leica D-Lux 5 camera (David J Mathre)
Roadblock outside of Pureto Natales Chile. Image taken with a Leica D-Lux 5 camera (David J Mathre)

22-January-2011 edit: Check out Thom Hogan’s blog about being held hostage in southern Chile.

Author: David Mathre

I am a scientist by training (Eckerd College, BSc; Caltech, Ph.D.). I worked for 27 years as a Chemist in the Pharmaceutical Industry developing processes to manufacture medicines for human and animal health. I now spend my time as a photographer and world traveler. My interests in photography include the natural world, wildlife, landscapes, skyscapes, and seascapes. I have traveled to over 50 countries over the last 10 years, often on Semester at Sea voyages. While at home in New Jersey, I spend time on a home renovation project and expanding my wildflower garden/meadow.

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